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Bill in Texas Would Make it Harder for Police to Withhold Body Camera Evidence

Bill in Texas Would Make it Harder for Police to Withhold Body Camera Evidence

A new bill filed in Texas would make it more difficult for police to withhold body camera footage of fatal encounters involving police officers and criminal suspects.

The bill was filed after prosecutors brought a murder charge against an officer, almost a year after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black and Hispanic man in Austin.

Travis County District Attorney’s Office issued a warrant for the arrest of Christopher Taylor, a police officer, over the killing of Michael Ramos.

It is the first known murder indictment for an Austin police officer in a deadly force incident, the Texas Tribune reported.

Just hours after the indictment was revealed, state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, a Democrat from Austin, filed a new bill in the Texas legislature in honor of Ramos.

The Tribune reported the Mike Ramos Act would allow for more comprehensive release of police body camera footage over fatal police encounters. Video footage, under the bill, would initially go to a local police oversight entity, if one existed in the given jurisdiction, then to the officer’s lawyer, and the family of the deceased. The footage would finally go to the public.

“Current law creates a presumption that law enforcement can withhold the release [of body camera footage],” Eckhardt stated in a virtual press conference. “This language flips that … The presumption is that it must be released. Law enforcement will then have to argue back from that why they think it should not be.”

Police body cam evidence can provide vital evidence of what happened during an arrest or a fatal encounter. However, police often successfully withhold it. 

The bill includes the implementation of a statewide policy and training guidelines over de-escalation of encounters between police and suspects. It would allow the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to more easily revoke officers’ licenses. 

Austin police said Taylor turned himself in to the Travis County Jail and was released on a $100,000 bond.

Ramos, 42, was unarmed when police shot him last April at an apartment complex in southeast Austin as he drove out of a parking space. His death sparked demonstrations against alleged police brutality in the city. The Austin Police Department released body camera footage of the incident months later.

Last summer, Ramos’ name became a rallying cry in Texas during nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, during a police arrest.

Police videos in Austin showed Ramos pulling out of the parking spot before turning and stopping as police officers followed his car, pointing their rifles toward the driver’s side. Attorneys acting for Ramos’ family said there appeared to be no justification for the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.

Attorneys for Taylor said police were concerned that Ramos would use his vehicle as a weapon against them.  

Murder charges against police officers remain rare in Texas. However, several cases in the state in recent years have resulted in murder convictions.

In 2019, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the killing of Botham Jean, a Black man, after she walked into his apartment. She claimed she mistook his home for her own.

In any criminal case, it is important to obtain as much information as possible including police body camera evidence. Our experienced Dallas criminal defense attorneys leave no stone unturned in our quest for justice. If you or a family member is facing a criminal charge please call us at (214) 720-9552.